Paul Ince has revealed he wanted to turn down his first senior England call-up and needed the persuasive words of his Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson before he accepted Graham Taylor’s offer to play for his country back in 1992.
Ince was a key member of an emerging Manchester United side that were closing in on the club’s first English league title in 26 years when Ferguson received a call from Taylor to inform him he wanted to include Ince in his next England squad for an away game against Spain.
But Ferguson did not get the response he was expecting from Ince when he passed on the good news.
“We played Leeds at Old Trafford in 1992 and beat them 2-0,” recalls Ince, speaking exclusively to Planet Football at a Paddy Power event in London.
“Their midfield was impressive. David Batty, Gary McAllister and Gary Speed were in their prime and had just helped Leeds to win the title at our expense a few months earlier, but I did quite well that day and I remember coming off the pitch and our assistant manager Brian Kidd called me over in the players’ lounge and told me the gaffer wanted to see me.
“I was thinking, what have I done wrong here? I thought I’d be playing pretty well, but you never knew with the boss because he might have spotted something he wasn’t happy with.
“So I get up to the manager’s room and he tells me that he’s just had Graham Taylor on the phone and he wanted me to be in the next England squad to play against Spain in Santander.
“My first reaction probably took my manager by surprise as I said straight away, ‘I’m not going.’ He looked at me and couldn’t quite work out why I didn’t want to meet up with England and possibly earn my first international cap.
“I just said that I’m not going out to Spain to sit on the bench and watch the established international players like Rob Lee, Batty and a few more get into the team ahead of me. So I told him to ring Taylor back and say I wasn’t going. With that, I left the room and went back to the bar.”
That appeared to be the end of that, but it wasn’t long before Kidd was telling Ince to get back into Ferguson’s office.
“Kiddo said to me the manager wants to see you again,” Ince says. “I said tell the gaffer I’m not playing and that’s it, but he said I’d be fined a week’s wages if I didn’t get back into the manager’s office right away so off I went again.
“The boss told me that he had spoken to Taylor again and he had been assured that I would start against Spain and only then did I say I would go.
“It’s an interesting story because there were a lot of tales saying Ferguson used to try and block his United players from going on international duty, but that’s an example of a moment when he did the opposite.
“If that had gone another way and it had come out in the press that I had turned down a call-up, that might have been the end of my international career, but I got man-of-the-match in that Spain game and my England career lifted off from there.”
Ince went on to win 53 caps for his country, playing a key role in the side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 96 and captaining England on the night when they qualified for the 1998 World Cup finals by securing a 0-0 draw against Italy in Rome.
Yet if he had not been talked into playing for England by Ferguson and Taylor at that formative stage of his career, his international story may well have been halted at first base.
Paul Ince is a Paddy Power ambassador and you can read his views at news.paddypower.com
By Kevin Palmer